Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Balcer not standing in way of next generation of political Daleys

The political retirement of James Balcer, a long-time alderman from the 11th Ward, is so typical of the way electoral politics works in this city.

I'll take Balcer's word for it that he's not being pushed out of his post so that a member of the Daley family can be in the City Council -- which is going to be the likely end result of this come the February 2015 elections.

FOR PATRICK THOMPSON, a member of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board whose grandfather was the late Mayor Richard J. Daley and whose uncle is the retired Mayor Richard M. Daley, wants to move up to a more prominent post.

Going from the board that oversees water sanitation plants to being on the City Council is a significant step up -- particularly since it would mean Thompson could bypass the usual "first step" for an aspiring political person. Which is a seat in the state Legislature.

So to avoid a political fight, incumbent Alderman Balcer is stepping aside. He's not seeking re-election. He's saying that 17 years in the council is long enough.

Particularly since Balcer has always made an issue of the fact that he served in the Marine Corps back during the Vietnam War.

SO THE FACT that he says he wants to focus his time on getting treatment for vertigo and post-traumatic stress disorder that date back to his late 1960s military service is sort of believable.

Although I suspect that if he wanted to, Balcer could have figured out a way to get treatment and remain in the City Council.

But there were other interests that wanted the post, and Balcer has always been a loyal enough soldier (politically, as well as militarily) to not want to engage in a fight.

In fact, it is the way most government officials wind up getting elected. The blatant, public political infighting that takes place between Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican opponent Bruce Rauner is rare.

MOST CANDIDATES FOR public office have the political organizations they are aligned with use their power to crush anyone who dares think of challenging them. The idea of an actual fight in the streets to sway voters to back them is the last thing they want -- particularly for those who have been around awhile like Balcer.

So Balcer can easily decide it's time to retire. No one had to come right out and tell him to get lost. Because I do think that if it had come down to a fight between the two, Thompson could have won.

The "Daley" connection still carries some pull; even if we're currently in a lull between Daleys similar to the period of the 1980s between the two Mayors Daley. Rahm Emanuel's legacy could wind up being that he kept the office warm in between the Daleys -- just like former mayors Bilandic, Byrne or Washington (be honest, that is part of Harold's legacy).

There will be those Bridgeport residents who will vote for Thompson because of his family connection. Balcer might have had his home neighborhood's respect, but the whole idea of Daleys in government does sway some voters -- no matter how irrational the concept is.

BALCER MUST REALIZE how much it would hurt his image if he had tried to come between that. Even if he had managed to win against Thompson, it would have created resentment.

Now, people can go about speculating how long it will be until Thompson tries running for mayor -- although considering he's 45, he has plenty of time to have a political life. His biggest mistake would be to try to rush the process (which is one his uncle Rich made back in 1983 when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor).

He will have to bide his time and wait for the right moment, just as how Balcer had enough sense to realize his "right" moment to retire has come and that he had little to gain from provoking a political civil war in the 11th Ward.


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